Hadji Murad, Violence, and Narrative

Justin Weir, Harvard University

This paper reconsiders whether the eponymous hero of Tolstoy's novella Hadji Murad represents a genuine departure from the religious philosophy of the author's late career. At the heart of the problem is the spectacular violence that surrounds Hadji Murad's life and death, and which Tolstoy describes in lurid detail. Hadji Murad is treated as more than simply a protagonist; he is a hero whose bravery, no matter how violent, is sanctioned by the author’s substantial narrative attention and readers’ likely approval. This paper argues that by considering the involuting narrative structure of the novella, and by comparing the novella with some of Tolstoy’s earlier autobiographical fiction, one can map out more precisely where Tolstoy intends to invoke the reader’s moral judgment and where he does not. Tolstoy’s autobiographical fiction sheds light in particular on how we may address Hadji Murad’s own reminiscences, which are at the center of the novella both metaphorically and literally.